Uman’s first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth takes place in London, in equal partnership with Nicola Vassell Gallery, New York NY. An intuitive artist and voracious autodidact, Uman draws upon her memories of her East African childhood, rigorous education in traditional Arabic calligraphy, deep engagement with dreams and fascination with kaleidoscopic color and design.
Uman’s ebullient visual vocabulary reflects her expansive cross-cultural experiences. With nods to self-portraiture and fictional topographies, her paintings fluidly navigate in-between realms to explore both the physical and spiritual, intertwining abstraction, figuration, meditative patterning and a reverence for the natural world. This exhibition displays a selection of large-scale paintings with lavishly detailed and opulently colored worlds, replete with gesture, geometry and evocations of the sublime, hovering between abstraction and figuration.
‘I think everything I do now is a self-portrait in different ways. Even my abstract paintings, mythical in nature, are self-portraits. I love drama, and so I depict myself with several mouths, and several eyes, just like a creature.’—Uman
The element of self-portraiture permeates Uman’s practice. This kind of autobiographical transfiguration is seen in the new work ‘Untitled’ (2023), an expressive painting depicting an abstracted figure with its mouth open surrounded by flowing trails of geometric patterning. Other more abstract paintings on display are still biographical, as Uman describes ‘the paintings are an extension of who I am’; they are not planned or premeditated but born from dreams, intuition and rigorous discipline. This exhibition can be understood as a collective portrait of the artist herself, at this moment in time.
In addition to prolific iconography from her own memories and dreams, Uman uses geometric forms, dots and abstract patterning that resembles mycelial networks. These collide with anthropomorphic elements to culminate in depictions that are at once botanical and intergalactic. The recent painting ‘BBC London In These Streets’ (2023) features a grid of intricately patterned abstractions interspersed with triangulations that are each embellished with dots resembling eyes or spirals. These exuberant, seemingly freestyle markings recall Arabic calligraphy, which Uman studied as a child; the resulting marks coalesce into Uman’s own highly distinctive language of symbols. Uman cites Louise Bourgeois as inspiration for the use of spirals in this selection of new paintings, such as ‘Untitled’ (2023) where floating circles in spiral formation contain smaller paintings within them, resulting in paintings that are bustling with miniature worlds.
In this exhibition, Uman privileges saturated colors, combining bright jewel tones alongside darker hues in surprising ways. The artist’s process begins with the repeated layering of colors using acrylic paint, followed by an application of oil stick or oil paint via minimal but resolute gestures using a brush or her own hands. Applying thin, decisive layers of color with purpose, this approach heightens the materiality of Uman’s works and reinforces her minimalist approach. ‘I find beauty in the canvas itself,’ she has said about the practice of leaving some of her canvases unprimed. ‘It’s a beautiful strong material that sometimes needs to participate in the painting.’
Other works, such as ‘Samaki in the ocean’ (2023), are primed with blue or black pigment, creating a powerful contrast between the dark background and bold effulgent tones that make up Uman’s textural markings. Her mastery of pigments makes possible a trajectory between past and present. ‘They come from my past,’ she explains, ‘I grew up with colorful women, a colorful culture. East African and Somali people love color more than anything. I’ve kept that in me, living here in the West, and I’m using that in my work to tell a story.’
From her studio in Upstate New York, Uman has been working on her latest body of work.
Uman’s dazzling visual vocabulary reflects her life and expansive cross-cultural experiences. Born in Somalia and raised in Kenya, she migrated to Denmark as a teenager and later to New York NY as a young adult. Now, with a home and studio in Upstate New York, Uman paints richly-hued worlds replete with gesture, geometry and the sublime. An intuitive artist, her influences abound from memories of East African childhood, a rigorous education in traditional calligraphy and a fascination with kaleidoscopic color and design. With nods to self-portraiture and fictional topographies, Uman’s paintings speak fluently of liminal navigation. Her work contemplates both the physical and spiritual, intertwining abstraction, figuration, meditative patterning and a reverence for the natural world.
1 / 10